D.C. Council moves to restrict Mayoral control of traditional public schools

In the aftermath of the multiple scandals that have plagued DCPS, I predicted that Mayoral control of public schools in the nation’s capital would be weakened. I strongly believe that at this point in our local history of public school reform this is the right path to take. Whenever there is one person that selects the Deputy Mayor for Education, the State Superintendent of Education, and Chancellor, politics is going to categorize the behavior of these offices. The explanation for this phenomenon is straightforward. The Mayor is dependent upon votes to maintain her position so there will necessarily be politics involved in carrying out tasks that should be politics-free. People always act according to their nature.

Yesterday, Education Committee Chairman David Grosso introduced legislation at the D.C. Council that would increase the term of the State Superintendent of Education from four years to six years. The bill also would permit the State Superintendent to be removed only for cause and would allow this individual to fill positions under his or her authority instead of having the Mayor make these decisions. According to the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, Mr. Grosso commented about his proposed legislation, “I have looked for every angle I can to try and remove politics from education policies in the city, and this is one more step toward making that happen.”

Also on Tuesday, Councilmember Mary Cheh brought forth an act that would have the State Superintendent named by the Board of Education. She remarked, according again to Ms. Stein, “In the scheme of things, I am very concerned about concentrating all power in single hands.”

Exactly right. I would go even further. My recommendation is to allow the Mayor to appoint members to a board similar to the DC Charter School Board. Then I would have the State Superintendent of Education and the Chancellor report to this body. The Deputy Mayor for Education would have a seat at the table and represent the city’s leader in policy matters before the panel.

Mayor Bowser is naturally against the moves by Mr. Grosso and Ms. Cheh. In yesterday’s article by Ms. Stein about the actions by the councilmembers, the Interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith asserted, “The students of the District of Columbia can ill afford misguided education legislation that moves our city backwards more than a decade and undermines the hard work of our teachers, administrators and staff.” True, but what we really cannot afford as a community is cheating when it comes to students meeting high school graduation requirements, an acceptance of residency fraud, and preferred placement for the children of the Chancellor.

It is time to take a drastically different approach.

Closure of Sustainable Futures PCS drives D.C. charter board to alter procedures around new school openings

At last evening’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board deputy director Naomi Rubin DeVeaux delivered a heartfelt report on changes in procedures the organization is considering in the aftermath of Sustainable Futures PCS’s decision to relinquish its charter after only one year of operation.  The alternative high school charter was approved in 2016 and had an enrollment of approximately 46 students.  It shuttered its doors last June.  The ideas obviously came to the board after much thought as Scott Pearson, PCSB’s executive director, stated that there has been “a lot of soul searching, examination, and self-reflection,” that has been going among the staff regarding the closure.  It was clear that the board is viewing this event as a failure and is taking responsibility, perhaps overly so, for the negative outcome.  You can view the presentation here.

Ms. DeVeaux explained that once a new school is approved there are almost always conditions placed on the charter that need to be fulfilled before it is allowed to open.  She revealed that some of these are basic, such as securing a facility and the need to incorporate as a 501(c)(3).  In other cases, Ms. DeVeaux detailed, there are changes to the curriculum or the educational plan for special education students that are required due to board concerns.  In these instances, sometimes schools will negotiate over the final form of these changes and the implementation deadlines.  While in the past the staff has made decisions on their own as to whether to accept, for instance, a delay in meeting the new requirements, the deputy director opined that these modifications should probably go back to the board for approval.  In the case of Sustainable Futures, Ms. DeVeaux recalled that almost all the dates around meeting conditions slipped.

The PCSB deputy director also observed that the planning year, the time between approval to open by the board and the first day of school, is tough for new schools because there is so much that has to be accomplished.  Therefore, the charter board is going to change its calendar to move up the application process.  While new submissions are now made in March and approved by the board in May, beginning in the year 2020 applications will be due in January with decisions made in March.  Ms. DeVeaux remarked that this step will help significantly with schools being ready for common lottery applications in November.

Another modification that the board is considering is around the founding members.  In a new school’s application key individuals are identified.  Ms. DeVeaux opined that there has to be some assurance that this group will be in place when the school opens.  She feels that if there is significant turnover of key personnel then the new body should be approved by the board.  The PCSB deputy director explained that in the case of Sustainable Futures, only the original board chair and founder remained.  Moreover, while the PCSB staff meets with key individuals of a new school about once a month before the charter opens, Ms. DeVeaux said that the new charter’s board should be included in these sessions at least on a quarterly basis.

Finally, Ms. DeVeaux believes that the PCSB should be much more active in setting new charters’ enrollment levels.  She revealed that many have lofty targets for its initial year of teaching and she wants the board to restrict this number in case the schools run into difficulties.  She added that she was glad that this is exactly what transpired in the case of Sustainable Futures, which limited the number of students impacted by the school’s decision to close.

All of these recommendations appear to make logical sense and are obviously coming from people who care exceedingly deeply about the scholars under their care.

Charter school network selected to open on D.C. military base posts low standardized test scores

Yesterday, the D.C. public charter school board announced that a group of four military and four non-military families entitled the Ward 8 Parent Operator Section Team (Post) settled on the Learn Charter School Network to open a new Kindergarten through eighth grade charter school on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB). Last year, the Post group conducted a request for proposal for a charter to operate on JBAB in the aftermath of the D.C. Council passing in 2016 the Military Installation Public Charter School Amendment. The act permits a charter to open on seven acres of land next to the base. The law includes an admission preference for children of parents in the military of up to 50 percent of total enrollment. The work of Post was supported by an advisory board that included Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE) and other members of the local community, and it received financial backing from Education Forward. The charter would open during the 2021-to-2022 school year and eventually serve 712 students.

Here is how LEARN describes itself in its application to the DC Public Charter School Board:

“LEARN Charter School Network, an Illinois 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is a proven provider of K-8 college preparatory education for traditionally underserved students. Since opening our first school in 2001, LEARN has grown from one school serving 110 students to a thriving network of ten charter schools serving over 4,000 students in the Chicagoland area. Our schools include LEARN 6 and LEARN 10 in North Chicago, Illinois, which serve military families of the Naval Station Great Lakes as well as the surrounding low-income community.”

LEARN is proud of its academic results and states that it outperforms schools in its neighborhoods. But frankly, the scores are nothing to get excited about. On the PARCC assessment for 2015, the latest statistics featured on the CMO’s website, the percentage of students earning a three or four, meaning they are career or college ready in the subject of math, is 17 percent. For reading this number goes up to 25 percent. This compares to the local school percentages of 13 percent and 18 percent for these subjects, respectively. For subgroups of students the numbers are also not impressive. For low-income students, also for 2015 PARCC scores, the LEARN proficiency rate is 22 percent, compared to 20 percent for Chicago Public Schools. In regard to Black students, its proficiency rate is 17 percent with CPS coming in at 15 percent, and for Hispanic students CPS has a proficiency rate of 25 percent compared to LEARN students’ 22 percent.

The application includes PARCC scores from the year 2017. These demonstrate combined math and reading proficiency rates of around 30 percent, which are similar to the state average. They are, however, significantly above those of the neighborhood schools that are in the basement at eight percent. When you look at subgroup results they come in again at about the 30 percent mark. This proportion is also significantly higher than those of the neighborhood schools. However, I would not call these findings closing the achievement gap.

It would be extremely interesting and valuable to input the charter network’s indicators into the Performance Management Framework and see where it tiers.

There are statistics on the school’s website that show some impressive student academic growth for pupils who have been at the school for at least five years. This may be one of those schools whose standardized test scores are low but whose scholars show great progress over time. But since we are talking about a charter serving military families, whose students are less likely to stay at the school for more than a couple of years, I don’t believe this fact is relevant.

The network’s PARCC test results call into question whether one of D.C.’s local charter schools should instead be selected to operate this new charter. After all, many post much stronger results with at-risk kids and they already are familiar with D.C.’s exceptionally unique public education environment and student population, although they may not have experience teaching military families.

A public hearing will be held October 15th on the LEARN application with a vote being taken by the PCSB at its November meeting.

We all need to look in the mirror when it comes to D.C. charter school replication

The Twitter response to yesterday’s article “Pearson vs. Great Public Schools” came quickly and furiously from Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, as I knew it would:

has a dead simple process for replicating Tier One schools. Mark, you have served on the boards of TWO Tier One schools neither of which has requested to replicate. Next time you wonder why we don’t have more Tier One seats, perhaps you should look in the mirror.”

I spent six years on the board of governors of Washington Latin PCS, the only Performance Management Framework Tier 1 school with which I was personally involved, although I also served on the board of the Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy and was a founding board member of the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts which is now named City Arts and Prep PCS.  I was the board chair of Doar for four years and board chair at Latin for a couple of years when it acquired and renovated the former DCPS Rudolph Elementary School as its permanent location.  As an individual who has blogged about charters in the nation’s capital for almost 10 years, I made a commitment to those schools for whom I volunteered that I would not discuss board matters in this space.  Therefore, I cannot respond directly to Mr. Pearson’s remarks.

However, I can say this:  when it comes to increasing the number of seats of high performing charters we owe it to our families and community to do whatever we can to make this a reality.  And I’m not talking about this occurring decades from now.  I mean now, today, or if not today, tomorrow.  It is terribly unjust that in the year 2018 zip codes are still determining the quality of the education children are receiving in the nation’s capital, and that parents who desire to get their offspring into those charter schools that are best will have a greater probability of having them, when they are older, admitted to Harvard University than to gain a spot here.

If we believe with every cell in our hearts and our heads, as Joseph E. Robert, Jr. stated on numerous occasions, that access to a good education for our kids is a civil right, then we need to view the shortage of quality seats as a crisis.  When a public policy crisis occurs usually there are heroes that emerge to forge answers.

My conversation with Mr. Pearson continued overnight.  “The biggest incentive is a building,” he wrote. “I don’t control that and has not released any city buildings so far, though she has boosted the facilities allowance. What other incentives do you have in mind that are a) in PCSB’s control and b) don’t involve lowering standards?”

I can think of many, although I’m afraid Mr. Pearson will claim that these solutions lower the academic bar.  But here I go.

First, I would consider granting a new campus a two-year exemption from PMF tiering, doubling the one-year break it currently receives.  Second, I would give a year off to the entire CMO from the scoring for 12 months when it decides to replicate.  Third, the PCSB should review all of the requirements for reporting by its schools and drastically simplify them as much as possible.  Fourth, I would rewrite the rules for opening new schools to make it simpler and to reduce barriers to entry.  Fifth, I would take a look at the guidelines under which a school can replicate to increase the pool of charters that could qualify to take this step.  Sixth, I would demand a resolution to the charter school funding inequity issue compared to the revenue DCPS receives on an annual basis.

Lastly, Mr. Pearson, I would use my position to talk to every politician, non-profit, philanthropist, developer, and business leader to finally solve the charter school facility crisis.  There are a ton of smart people in this town and we can and will figure this out.

We only live once.  Let’s spend those hours giving our children the chance in life that they deserve.

 

 

 

 

Pearson vs. great public schools

My attention was grabbed this morning by a commentary that appeared in the New York Daily News last week entitled “De Blasio vs. Great Public Schools” by Jenny Sedlis and Derrell Bradford, who are both associated with Success Academy Public Charter Schools.  In their piece they argue that Mayor de Blasio’s legacy of overseeing the city’s schools will be that there are many parents wanting quality seats for their children who cannot obtain them due to a capacity shortage.  They write:

“When we look back decades from now on Mayor de Blasio’s tenure running New York City schools, one theme will emerge:  There are way more children and families who want great schools than there are great schools for them.

More than a million kids are fighting for a number of great schools that they can’t all fit into.  There’s no excellent school -district or charter- that doesn’t have a waiting list.  Stuyvesant, Beacon, Success Academies:  All these schools have more kids who want to get in than can.”

The article goes on to accuse Mr. de Blasio of poor treatment of Eva Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive officer of Success Academy.

While we do not have a mayor here in D.C. who is actively opposing a dynamic school leader, we do have the same problem with a lack of space in the city’s leading charter schools.  For the school term that just started there is a reported 11, 317-student wait list for admission to charters.  We have talked about this topic before, but just to point out a few of the greatest in-demand schools, they include Creative Minds International PCS with 1,574 students seeking admission; D.C. Bilingual PCS with 1,292 students on the wait list; Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS – Brookland Campus with 1,827 pupils on the wait list, and Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS with 1,071 kids trying to get in. The list literally does go on and on.

So I’m sitting at my desk wondering if decades from now this will be the legacy of Scott Pearson as executive director of the Public Charter School Board.  Many people have spoken about the strengthening of  school accountability under Mr. Pearson.  Almost all of the lowest performing Tier 3 schools have been closed.  Others have mentioned the significant professional improvement in the operation of the board through more standardized policies, procedures, and practices.  Charter authorizers across the country look at the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework as the gold standard for the manner in which charters should be benchmarked against each other.  All of these accomplishments are to be commended.

But what about the tremendous frustration that parents in this town face every year when they enter the My DC school lottery?  They literally want to pull their hair out because they cannot get their children into the school of their choice.  I really don’t understand why these people stay here as residents.

So what is Mr. Pearson doing about this issue?  Well, the board is allowing some schools to replicate and increase their enrollment caps.  But as you can see the demand is so much higher than the supply.  What about making it easier for schools to grow?  How about figuring out how to provide them with buildings?  Has he looked into simplifying the application process for new schools and providing some incentives for groups to submit them?

It is fantastic to be known as the group that developed one of the strongest charter school portfolios in the nation.  But if kids cannot get access to them, then what good have you really done?

Exclusive Interview with Peter Anderson, head of school Washington Latin PCS

I had a nostalgic day recently as I returned to Washington Latin PCS, the charter where I served on the board of governors for six years. During my time as chair the school secured and renovated the old Rudolph Elementary School as it’s permanent facility.  This was also a fantastic opportunity to have my first extended conversation with Peter Anderson, the head of school who three years ago succeeded Martha Cutts in this role.  The discussion was fascinating.  I first asked Mr. Anderson how he thought Washington Latin was progressing.

“Latin is doing extremely well when you consider various indicators,” Mr. Anderson answered without hesitation.  “We continue to retain more than 80 percent of our teachers and, of those to whom we extend contracts, over 90 percent accept them.  This has been the pattern the last three years.  Of course, retaining the teaching staff is important to the overall success of the school.  One of our sayings over here is that ‘people matter’ and who is in the classroom is more important than books, buildings, or budgets.  Being able to keep our talented instructors provides continuity.  We also have some fairly new teachers who are rising stars, and who are taking on added responsibilities under the tutelage of our amazing principal Diana Smith.   These individuals are incredibly smart and acclimating exceedingly quickly.  We have been intentionally trying to develop a diverse faculty both in race and intellectual experience.  We look for a range of backgrounds.  For example, we enjoy meeting teachers who have lived internationally or traveled extensively and we look for people who have been athletes or coaches since they know what it is like to work on a team.  We have teachers who have taught in private schools and urban public schools and those that have these backgrounds who are from other parts of the country. “

The Latin head of school then spoke about other signs that the school is in a strong position.  “Our students continue to perform well on external measures,” Mr. Anderson related.  “Our students post strong scores on Advanced Placement exams, PARCC, SAT, the National Latin Exam, and the ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages.  In addition, both our middle and high schools are ranked Tier 1 on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework”

However, following in the exact mold of former head Martha Cutts, the leader of Washington Latin believes there is more to be done.

“Our goal is to improve the academic performance of our at-risk student population and that of African American males,” Mr. Anderson asserted.

With the recent news that many of the city’s independent schools are eliminating Advanced Placement, I wanted to get Mr. Anderson’s take on the value of these courses.  He responded to my question as if he and his team had already spent hours pondering the same issue.  “We still believe that AP is rigorous yet doesn’t pigeonhole us into having to teach to the test.  The instructional staff makes every attempt to make advanced placement more accessible to a wide variety of students.  We have actually added AP classes and designed some of our own more challenging courses, such as Honors Humanities, The History of Jerusalem, and Advanced Arabic.”

Mr. Anderson added that Washington Latin now offers AP Computer Science Principles that appeals to a diverse group of scholars.  He informed me that a goal is for students to track in AP classes in an earlier age.

“This summer we had approximately 250 out of our 700 students attend summer school,” he said. “Only a small percentage of those are there for remediation.  Summer school allows pupils to work in small groups to prepare for more rigorous classes in the future.  For example, we offered a bridge class to Algebra 2.  Now more students are taking geometry in middle school.  One class that was particularly interesting was Underwater Robotics.”

Mr. Anderson then returned to some of the other positive trends currently being experienced at Latin.

“Depending upon the grade level, Mr. Anderson explained, “we retain about 95 percent of our students year after year.  Some grades retain 100 percent of their class.  Our internal surveys of parents and students indicate high levels of satisfaction with the school.  We were recently re-accredited for five years by AdvancED and we solicited intensive feedback from our parents, students and teachers as part of this process.”

When asked about college performance, Mr. Anderson indicated that “in regard to our matriculating seniors, we brought in a record $10.5 million in merit-based scholarships in 2017; this year a smaller graduating class realized $6.6 million.   In addition, the list of colleges and universities that our students are attending grows each term.  This year, there is a student attending New York University in Shanghai.  Another will be studying in Rome.  Past graduating seniors have enrolled in community college, small liberal arts colleges, Ivy League schools, large research universities, and HBCU’s in all parts of the country. Note that fit is of the utmost importance to us.  As such, we are always looking for post-secondary options that can meet the needs of our graduates, whether it is a larger institution like the University of Vermont, a smaller college like Eckerd, the military, or culinary school.”

I next wanted to know from Mr. Anderson what he is enjoying most about his time at Latin.  “There are a number of things I love here,” the head of school asserted.  “I would have to start with the team that leads this school.  Over the course of my 21-year career I have often gone into leadership roles in which I’ve had to restructure and bring in new people.  That is just not my experience here.  This is the best leadership group with whom I’ve ever worked.  It makes my job so much easier and allows me to think strategically instead of having to be in the weeds.  As you can see I really appreciate them.”

Mr. Anderson continued, “I also truly enjoy the community here.  The people who work here are genuinely interested in the lives of their colleagues.  The level of compassion and empathy toward each other is so rewarding to see and there is a really positive relationship between the teachers and students.  Please allow me to tell you a story about this topic.  When I was a student teacher at NYU I was assigned to work at a Title 1 school in Chinatown.  The second school at which I trained was in Tribeca, which was a highly progressive institution of non-Title 1 children.  One day when I walked into the teachers’ lounge of the first school I heard the instructors bashing the kids.  Now, I knew these pupils were good kids and were compliant, which is a proxy for what many teachers consider to be respectful.  I never walked into that room again.  Here at Latin, the teachers’ lounge is right next to my office.  When you enter this space, you hear philosophical discussions amongst the staff.  You see co-workers in deep conversations about how best to help particular students or engaged in collaborative planning.  It is inspiring.  Being with the faculty demonstrates that they believe in, and constantly reinforce, our motto that “words matter.”

Mr. Anderson also stated that he really enjoys being in Washington, D.C. where it is so charter school friendly.

“When I worked in New York I got involved in charter advocacy,” he recalled. “I would go up to Albany and lobby where I would see Seth Andrews, the creator of Democracy Prep PCS, and Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy PCS.  They received most of the attention.  But my career afforded me a unique prospective because the first charter I led in Harlem, a Kindergarten to eighth grade school, was a conversion from a traditional school.  Therefore, it was unionized.  So, I was able to talk to state representatives from this angle.”

Here in D.C., Mr. Anderson is excited that Washington Latin has now joined the Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools.  The Latin Head of Schools explained that the group is an association of charters that are not part of charter management organizations.  He detailed that the newly established national group is set up to share best practices, advocate for favorable local, state, and federal policies, and pursue funding and other resources. Latin is also of course a party to the FOCUS-engineered lawsuit brought against the city for equitable charter school funding compared to DCPS.  Mr. Anderson is proud that the initial judgment siding with the traditional schools is being appealed and that Latin is a part of this effort.

An area we briefly touched on, but perhaps the one that speaks volumes about the success of this school, is the student demand to be admitted.  This term there were 2,300 applications for approximately 100 open slots.  As the final part of the school’s five-year strategic plan adopted in 2016 the charter will eventually expand.  With Mr. Anderson’s experience as a teacher, administrator, and school leader in traditional, parochial, and charter schools, together with his high performing leadership team, this appears just the right group to bring Washington Latin to the next level.

U.S. Education Secretary DeVos pays visit to Friendship Public Charter School

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein details today that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited three traditional public schools yesterday to congratulate them on their recent PARCC results.  The DCPS elementary schools, Amidon-Bowen, Hendley, and Simon, each scored greater than the 2.8 city-wide average increase in English and the 2.5 improvement in math over the previous year and each serves primarily low income children.  She delivered cookies and a congratulatory note at each stop.  The appearances were a surprise to the schools.

What Ms. Stein failed to mention is that Ms. Devos also went to Friendship PCS.  Chief Executive Officer Patricia Brantley in her Facebook post does not mention the name of the campus where Ms. DeVos posed for a picture with some of the students but I bet it was Technology Preparatory High School, the same location that was featured by Ms. Stein in a story the other day.  As the DC Public Charter School Board highlighted last week, Tech Prep had the greatest increase in standardized test scores of all charters compared to 2017 rising 22.3 percent in English and 13.6 percent in math.

Ms. DeVos’s show of support is exactly the right move by someone in her position.  As people in leadership know, everything  you do and say is going to be watched and scrutinized by those around you so it is critically important to be intentional in all of your actions.

The Education Secretary’s choice stands in sharp contrast to the decision of D.C. Mayor Bowser as to where to start her Monday morning on the beginning of the new school year.  She went to Excel Academy, the closed all-girl charter school that has converted to be part of DCPS.  One reason that has been offered for the institution’s decision to become a regular school instead of being taken over by KIPP DC PCS or Friendship was that it wanted to avoid the strict accountability that it experienced under the PCSB.  Bringing attention to a school that was shuttered for low academic performance is not exactly the message of high expectations that you want to send to each of our public school families and students.

Ms. Bowser sent a similar communication when she stated that she could wait until after her Democratic primary contest was concluded to begin the search for a new Chancellor.  Antwan Wilson, the previous person in this position, resigned on February 20, 2018.  The primary was on June 29th, four months later.  Ms. Bowser had no real opponent.  The decision just shouts loud and clear that education is not a priority.

I am convinced that it is intentionality that separates the charters that succeed from those that do not. I have heard the term consistently emphasized by the school leaders that are in charge of some of the most respected schools in our city.   It is one of most prominent characteristics I see in the heads of organizations that I respect and admire.  Perhaps if we really want to see PARCC scores go up dramatically in this town we all need to adopt a strictly intentional attitude around learning.

 

 

D.C.’s Friendship Tech Prep perfectly illustrates problem with charter board’s grading system

Today, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, who is doing some excellent reporting, tells the story of Lakia Mines, a 12 year old homeless young woman who yesterday started seventh grade at Friendship PCS Technology Preparatory Academy High School in Anacostia. Please visit the Post’s website so you can see a picture of this beautiful child.

If you have never seen the Friendship Tech building you are missing something special. The school spent $14 million to build the state-of-the-art facility, and in 2014 my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of touring it right before it opened. But I digress. Please pay close attention to the words of Ms. Stein that brought tears to my eyes early this morning:

“A year ago, Lakia, who has special-education needs, entered sixth grade at Friendship Tech reading at kindergarten level. School officials say she made significant progress last year and starts the seventh grade reading at the fourth-grade level — a feat that has rendered her more confident and her mother proud.

‘She just did a 180 last year and turned around,’ Malonda Mines, her mother, said. ‘I’m so happy she’s doing well. It’s amazing to me.’

At Friendship, Lakia meets with social and mental-health workers regularly. The school provided her family with free uniforms. And she has intensive and personalized academic assistance so she can attend mainstream classes while an aide helps tailor the lessons to her level.

She has a longer commute than most of her classmates, so the school coordinates transportation, which allows her to participate in the dance team’s evening practices.

Because of all of this, Lakia’s first day of school Monday played out like that of any other student.”

Let me repeat. Lakia started Friendship Tech Prep last year in sixth grade at the Kindergarten level academically. She is now in the seventh grade and reading at the fourth grade level. She advanced four grades in one term. For being able to perform this miracle, Friendship Prep received a 54.5 percent score on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework, which makes it a middle to high Tier 2 institution. Last year, the charter earned a 50.1 percent, still in the Tier 2 category.

The charter board is extremely proud of its record of steering families to enroll their children in Tier 1 schools. So what does this ranking communicate to parents living in poverty whose sons or daughters cannot read, write, or perform basic mathematics? To me, it says don’t go to Friendship Tech Prep, you’d better find a “better” school. Give up the free school uniforms, social and mental health assistance, and transportation. And those Tier one schools that you may be interest in having your children attend? Many have wait-lists of hundreds of kids.

I think something has to change. The work being done at Friendship and at other schools that educate populations in which every pupil is economically disadvantaged needs to be celebrated. Ms. Perry states:

“By the time the bus arrived at 7 a.m., Lakia was ready — and slightly nervous — to travel across town from the District’s Fort Totten neighborhood to Friendship Tech Prep Academy, a charter school in Congress Heights that greeted students with exuberant songs, chants and dances.”

We should be greeting the staff of Friendship Tech Prep PCS every day with songs, chants, and dances for the truly amazing work they are doing.

The mystery of lethargic D.C. charter academic performance

The report card came in on Thursday afternoon in the way of the 2018 PARCC assessment scores and the findings were frankly anemic.  It was actually a sad day.  As the Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported:

“D.C. Public Schools outperformed charter schools on the 2018 PARCC test. Overall, the traditional school system showed greater improvement over 2017 and had a higher percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the tests.”

How in the world could DCPS, dysfunctional from the loss of its most recent Chancellor, embroiled in a high school graduation controversy, and reeling from accusations of residency fraud at one of its most prominent institutions, top the collective standardized test scores of D.C.’s charter schools?  After all these are the entities that are free from the constraints of the regular schools to hire their own staff, set many of their own operating rules, design the curriculum, and establish their own goals.  They are provided freedom to innovate in return for being accountable for their results to the DC Public Charter School Board.  In order to reach kids that traditional schools have not, almost all of them have longer school days, smaller class sizes, and describe themselves as extremely tight-knit communities.  Charters are recognized as paying particular close attention to the needs of their students and families because their revenue stream is dependent upon how many children are sitting in its classrooms each October.  With an ecosystem like this in place for over 20 years, and with the exception of one campus a lack of teacher union representation, these nonprofits should be soaring way above the clouds academically compared to the bureaucratic DCPS.  What is going on?

Well I think I know the answer.  We have a problem with the way we are conducting our local movement. Here are the issues.

First, the charter school facility problem is proving to be intractable.  We are so fortunate to have Building Hope and other like-minded groups here and banks that now actually have some understanding of charter school finance.  However, it is still, after two decades, much too difficult for a charter to obtain a permanent home.  In fact, the task is almost impossible.  The hunt for a building is a tremendous distraction from educating our scholars, and is restricting the replication of high performing schools that could help more kids.  I do not accept that with so many smart people invested in this cause that a solution to this issue cannot be found.

Second, we desperately have to rethink the PCSB mantra that charters must be “Tier 1 on day 1.”  The pressure to be atop the Performance Management Framework rankings is driving schools to what Jeanne Allen, the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform calls “isomorphism.”  Ms. Allen defines isomorphism as “the process that forces one unit in a population to resemble others who face similar environmental conditions.”  The phenomenon is resulting in charters looking more and more like the traditional schools already failing our children, and is causing them to shy away from true innovation.

The PCSB must be a true partner in reversing this trend.  Some crucially important steps are needed such as:

  • Holding off PMF tiering a new school for two years instead of one,
  • Giving CMOs that replicate a one-year hiatus for the entire system and not just the new campus,
  • Significantly reducing the reporting requirements of the schools it oversees,
  • Simplifying the new school application process, and
  • Redesigning the PMF to emphasize student growth over absolute test scores.

Charters enroll some of the most difficult to teach pupils.  Forty-eight percent of the kids in these schools are classified as at-risk.  Many live in poverty.  Almost all enter these schools years behind their age-appropriate grade level.  Yet, with all of these mighty challenges, some leaders are stating that it appears that the PCSB is running their schools in place of themselves.

Charters are really at a critical juncture.  As evidence for my conclusion consider that just last week, Democracy Prep PCS, which is located in Ward 8 and enrolls 656 students with a wait-list of 111, announced it was abandoning the District rather than face a five-year charter review.  This is exactly the opposite of what our city needs.  We desperately want high performing charter networks moving into the nation’s capital, not the other way around.  But they don’t want to come.  It is too difficult to find a place in which to operate and the regulation is overbearing.

There is no time to waste.  The times call for exceedingly bold actions.

 

 

 

D.C. schools standardized test scores go up for fourth consecutive year, results disappointing

The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education yesterday released the PARCC assessment results for 2018 and there are a few clear takeaways.  For the third year in a row the percentage of students scoring in the four and five range, which measures career and college readiness, went up.  In English Language Arts for traditional and charter schools combined, the proficiency rate is now at 33.3 percent, an improvement of 2.8 points compared to last year.  In math the percentages of those ranking four and five also increased, this time by 2.5 percent, to reach 29.4 percent.  What I also liked seeing is that the proportion of students scoring in the categories of one and two, did not meet expectations and partially met expectations, respectively, decreased with level one going down by 3.4 percent to 21.2 percent and level two dropping by 4.0 points to 23.9 percent.  Quoting directly from OSSE’s findings:

  • Scores are up across almost all grades and subjects.
  • There is especially strong improvement in middle grades in both ELA and mathematics.
  • All major groups of students improved.
  • We are proud of our educators and students for the improvements we’ve made since 2015, however, results remain lower than we need, and we continue to see persistent gaps between groups of students.

This is the fourth year that public school students in the nation’s capital have taken the PARCC assessment.  It is especially encouraging to see participation rates in the exam hovering around the 98 percent to 99 percent range depending on sector and whether it is the math or ELA portion of the test.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein makes the point that DCPS scored better than charters.  This is true for overall students.  In ELA, DCPS had 35.1 percent of students coming in at the four and five range while charters had 31.5 percent of students in this category.  In the subject of math, DCPS had 30.5 percent of students scoring in the four and five category and charters had 28.4 percent.  DCPS also showed the greatest improvement from 2017 with a 3.2 percent increase in ELA compared to charters 2.7 percent growth.  In math, DCPS went up by 3.1 percent compared to last year while charters increased by 1.8 percent.

These results are almost certainly due to DCPS having a greater proportion of generally more affluent white students compared to charters.  For example, for black students charters scored higher in English with 26.6 percent of students in the four or higher category and for DCPS this statistic was 22.9 percent.  For math, charters were at 24.4 percent proficient and DCPS was at 17.0 percent.  However, for Hispanics charters post results slightly higher than DCPS in English at 32.3 percent proficient versus 32.0 percent, but are behind DCPS in math with 23.9 percent proficient for charters compared to 30.5 percent for DCPS.  For those students designated as at-risk, charters scored better than DCPS in English and math, and for English as a Second Language learners DCPS did better in both subjects.  However, proficiency rates are extremely low coming in at about 20 percent.

Finally, the achievement gap is alive and well for all to see.  For a student living in Ward 3 the ELA proficiency rate is 72 percent compared to a 17 percent proficiency rate for a kid in Ward 8.  For math, the pattern continues with a Ward 3 proficiency rate of 64.4 percent.  For Ward 8 residents this number is 14.9 percent.  These results are depressing.

There are some charter schools that posted some impressive scores.  In English, besides Basis DC PCS and Washington Latin PCS showing strong results, Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS came in at 59.7 percent of students at the four or five level.  Washington Yu Ying PCS had 58 percent of students in this category, Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS had 57.6 percent and the District of Columbia International School PCS had 57.0 percent proficiency.  In math, KIPP DC – Promise Academy PCS had 73.5 percent proficiency, KIPP DC – Lead Academy PCS had 69.7 percent of students at four and above, KIPP DC – Heights Academy PCS was at 67.3 percent, and KIPP DC – Spring Academy PCS was at 61.1 percent.

Lastly, the DC Public Charter School Board highlighted schools that increased scores in ELA and math more than twice as high as the overall state improvements.  These include Harmony DC PCS, Friendship PCS – Woodridge International Elementary, Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS, KIPP DC – Lead Academy PCS, KIPP DC – Will Academy PCS, Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy – Chavez Prep, Friendship PCS – Technology Preparatory High School, and Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS.

You have to wonder whether, even with all the union distractions, Ten Square Consulting is having a positive impact at Cesar Chavez PCs.